Mimicking monkey sounds, colleagues being asked to translate "gobbledygook' and even blackface at a work fancy dress party have been listed among the incidents witnessed by black and minority ethnic staff at the region's ambulance service.

At the end of last year, a specialist equality, diversity and inclusion consultancy were employed to produce a report on the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) - covering Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.

Of the 120 Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) employees contacted, 58 gave responses. 

The survey findings are due to be discussed in a Trust board meeting on Wednesday, March 15.

One comment revealed that a complaint was ignored after a manager's husband "coloured himself black and dressed as Mr T" for a company fancy dress party.

Several responses noted a trend in BME staff being asked to translate for patients speaking "gobbledygook", even if they don't speak their language: "the reason given for the request was that 'I look like one of them'."

Another comment claimed that a call handler mutes calls from anyone whose first language isn't English, declaring: "If you live in my country, then learn to speak my language."

Discrimination on the basis of religion was also raised, with a Muslim respondent saying their colleagues had "openly joked in front of groups of other colleagues about eating food in front of [them] during Ramadan".

Another said they had been excluded by their team on the basis of their race, adding: "When my team were ordering a takeaway, they didn't order me one as they told me that they were ordering a curry and I was probably sick of them as I must eat them all the time."

In response to the findings, the Trust's executive team summarised: "It is fair to say that the BME Survey results makes for uncomfortable reading, however as part of the ambition of the Trust to improve its culture, making EEAST a great place to work, learn and volunteer, it is important that the content of the report is accepted as the baseline to improve from."

Only 22% of respondents felt that managers would act upon any complaints made, with many referencing previous issues raised which had been ignored.

The report noted a general lack of colleague respect surrounding individual differences and said racist behaviours, such as a monkey sound being mimicked when referring to an Asian doctor, were often "passed off as 'banter' or completely dismissed".

The survey also showed that 60% of respondents did not believe that opportunities for career advancement, training and progression were equally available to all staff.

One staff member said it was "heart wrenching" to see BME colleagues going above and beyond without getting "any recognition for their skills, attributes and knowledge", only then to have a non-BME person promoted over them by the "all white middle management".

McKenzie LLP, the consultants who produced the report, said that while old-fashioned attitudes to race equality do still exist in small pockets of more industrial sectors, it is "extremely rare" for them to experience the discrimination demonstrated within EEAST from a blue/white collar professional sector of the NHS.

The summary went on to say that, although some of the poor behaviour occurred before his arrival, EEAST chief executive Tom Abell had still met with members of the BME network to personally apologise.

The Trust's executive team added: "A zero tolerance for such poor behaviour was confirmed, and if repeated, appropriate and proportionate action would be taken."

A three-year BME action and integrated inclusivity plan has been developed which aims to "increase levels of diversity, equality, fairness and transparency, across the Trust."

East Anglian Daily Times: EEAST chief executive Tom Abell.EEAST chief executive Tom Abell. (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Abell said: “We commissioned this independent research to better understand the working lives of our colleagues. It shows that there are some instances of inappropriate behaviour at the Trust and I am sorry to all of my colleagues who have experienced this.

“I am clear that behaviour like this has no place in our Trust and will be eradicated.

“We have a wide-ranging plan to tackle this behaviour and make EEAST a more inclusive place to work. We have made good progress to improving our culture - as shown by our recent improved report from the Care Quality Commission.

“We would like to thank everyone who participated in the research and colleagues who continue to call out this type of behaviour.”